Serzh Sargsyan (Armenian: Սերժ Սարգսյան, pronounced [sɛɾʒ sɑɾkʰəsˈjɑn]; born 30 June 1954) is the third and current President of Armenia. He won the February 2008 presidential election with the backing of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, a party in which he serves as chairman, and took office in April 2008. On 18 February 2013, he was re-elected as President.
Serzh Sargsyan was born on 30 June 1954 in Stepanakert in the Nagorno Karabakh Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. He entered Yerevan State University in 1971, served in the Soviet Armed Forces during 1971–72, and graduated from the Philological Department of Yerevan State University in 1979. In 1983, he married his wife, Rita, with whom he has two daughters, Anush and Satenik. They have two granddaughters, Mariam and Rita, and two grandsons, Ara and Serzh. Sargsyan is also the chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation. In addition to his native Armenian, he is fluent in Russian. He is of no relation to the former Prime Minister of Armenia, Tigran Sargsyan.
In 1979 when he became head of the Stepanakert City Communist Party Youth Association Committee. Then he served as the Second Secretary, the First Secretary, the Stepanakert City Committee Propaganda Division Head, the Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee Communist Organizations' Unit Instructor, and finally as the assistant to Genrikh Poghosyan, the First Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Committee.
As tensions rose over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, Sargsyan became the Chairman of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defense Forces Committee and was subsequently elected to the Supreme Council of Armenia in 1990.
From 1993 to 1995 he was the Minister of Defense.
From 1995 to 1996, he was the Head of the State Security Department and, later, the Minister of National Security.
From 1999 to 2007 he was the Secretary of the National Security Council led by President Kocharyan.
Sargsyan, with President Kocharyan's backing, was viewed as the strongest contender for the post of the President of Armenia in the February 2008 presidential election. Full provisional results showed him winning about 53% of the vote, a first round majority, well ahead of second place candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian. The 2008 Presidential election was hailed as largely democratic by OSCE, the European Union (EU) and Western monitors.
Ter-Petrossian's supporters, disputing the official results, held large protests in Yerevan for over a week following the election, until they were violently broken up on 1 March; ten people (8 protestors and 2 police officers) were killed, and a state of emergency was imposed for 20 days, ending on 20 March 2008.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (February 2016)
Serzh Sargsyan was sworn in as President at the Yerevan Opera House on 9 April. Referring to the "painful events" that followed the election, he "urge[d] everybody to look forward, together, to seek and find the way for reconciliation, development, and future of Armenia." He appointed Tigran Sargsyan, who had been the Chairman of the Central Bank and is not a member of a political party, as Prime Minister. According to the Freedom House report "In 2011, the government took concrete steps to fulfill longstanding and often repeated promises to confront corruption. E-government services reduced opportunities for bribery, while new regulations and stricter enforcement led to higher numbers of corruption lawsuits and fines against senior officials and large companies. Owing to a more consolidated government effort to eradicate corruption, Armenia’s corruption rating improves from 5.50 to 5.25."
During Sargsyan's presidency the record of the freedom of speech and the freedom of press in general also improved in Armenia. Internet penetration rose sharply – from 6.2 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2011, providing greater access to online media, which rapidly grew in number, including blogosphere – with over 10,000 bloggers in 2011.
After the elections Sargsyan also authorized opposition rallies to take place in Yerevan and pledged to comply with the Council of Europe's demands for an end to the government's crackdown on the opposition.
The vibrancy of the civil society has grown considerably during the last years with the number of non-governmental organizations growing at a higher rate and with civic activists succeeding in raising public awareness and holding important campaigns in the sphere of human rights, environmental protection and social justice. However, public advocacy still has limited impact on public policy.
The start of Sargsyan's presidency coincided with the Great Recession. In 2009, Armenia's GDP contracted over 14%, which according to the World Bank was the fifth worst in the world that year after the three Baltic states and Ukraine. GDP growth subsequently stabilized at around 3% by 2013. As of 2014, Armenia's GDP is below the pre-crisis levels. During his first term of presidency, the official poverty rate doubled and reached 32.4% in 2012. According to official data, some 213,000 people have left Armenia from 2008 to 2013. In 2012 Armenia was ranked 39th out of 179 economies according to the Index of Economic Freedom and is ranked 19th freest among the 43 countries in the Europe region.
In September 2013 and under Sargsyan's direction, Armenia announced its intentions of joining the Eurasian Economic Union with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU or EEU) is an economic union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and came into force on 1 January 2015. Treaties aiming for Armenia's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union was signed on 9 October 2014. Armenia's accession treaty came into force on 2 January 2015. The Eurasian Economic Union has an integrated single market of 176 million people and a gross domestic product of over 4 trillion U.S. dollars (PPP). The EEU introduces the free movement of goods, capital, services and people and provides for common transport, agriculture and energy policies, with provisions for a single currency and greater integration in the future.
Sargsyan made his first address in front of the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 25 September 2008. In his speech he referenced the 2008 South Ossetia conflict and emphasized the need for the United Nations to help bring peaceful resolution to armed conflicts around the world, including the one in Nagorno-Karabakh. He also mentioned how Azerbaijan's military buildup along with increasing war rhetoric and threats risked causing renewed problems in the South Caucasus.
Sargsyan continues the policy towards the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict pursued by his predecessors, which constitutes one of the main goals of the Armenian foreign policy. Sargsyan has repeatedly stated that the Armenian side is interested in finding a just and exclusively peaceful solution to the conflict and that the OSCE Minsk Group is the viable format within which the peace talks should continue. He has thus continued the negotiations with Azerbaijan and has had a number of meetings with the president of Azerbaijan within the framework of OSCE Minsk Group. On 2 November 2008 Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan traveled to Moscow for talks with Dmitry Medvedev. The talks ended in the three Presidents signing a declaration confirming their commitment to continue talks. The two presidents met again since then, in 2009 in Saint Petersburg and on 22 November 2009, together with several world leaders, in Munich where President Aliyev once more threatened to resort to military force to reestablish control over the region if the two sides did not reach an agreeable settlement.
Sargsyan blames the Azerbaijani side for hampering the peace process and for pursuing an openly anti-Armenian stance. According to him the anti-Armenian policies of Azerbaijan, such as “state-supported falsifications of history”, “hostile propaganda against Armenia and Armenians” and the “military build-up” prove that Azerbaijan does not want peace.
The most vivid expression of anti-Armenian policies of Azerbaijan was the hero's welcome given to the convicted ax murderer Ramil Safarov who had brutally killed Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan during the NATO's Partnership for Peace program in Budapest in 2004. The fact that after his extradition to Azerbaijan in 2012 Safarov was pardoned by president Aliyev, promoted to the rank of major, given an apartment with over eight years of back pay and was made a national hero, hampers the negotiation process and proves, in Sargsyan's words, that "the Azeri propaganda brings up an entire generation in the atmosphere of xenophobia and intolerance."
Sargsyan has also clearly stated:
The Armenophobic and aggressive stance of Azerbaijan reinforces our conviction that Nagorno-Karabakh has no future within Azerbaijan. Moreover, Azerbaijan has neither legal nor political or moral grounds to claim over Nagorno-Karabakh.
In his speech made at the British Chatham House Sargsyan said:
Our belief is that the settlement of the Karabakh conflict should be based on human rights and the will of the Karabakh people… It is the only way to achieve lasting, feasible, and peaceful settlement. The alternative to this settlement is the forcing of the Karabakh people back into Azerbaijan, which will inevitably lead to attempts of new ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Karabakh. There is no alternative here.”
Responding to the persistent war rhetoric of Azerbaijan Sargsyan has condemned it as a violation of the norms of the international law, as the parties had signed a truce which Azerbaijan, the "defeated aggressor", had asked for.
He has also multiple times emphasized that his country is categorically against the resumption of military hostilities but at the same time is ready to counter any military aggression. “We don’t want war and never wanted, but at that time [i.e. during Nagorno-Karabakh war] we had to defend our Motherland. If the time comes again, this time our blow will be final and deadly.” he has said.
In this regard Sargsyan has also assured that in the case of military aggression from Azerbaijan “Armenia will have no other choice but to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic de jure and to employ all its capabilities to ensure the security of the people of Artsakh.”
In his electoral program of 2013 Sargsyan promised to increase the security guarantees of Nagorno-Karabakh and its people given Azerbaijan’s policy of Armenophobia. He also highlighted the importance of strengthening the defensive system of Armenia "as a factor restraining the Azerbaijani aggression and ensuring stability in the South Caucasus". The candidate also promised to take all the necessary efforts to ensure that Karabakh becomes a negotiating side in the peace talks as well as to foster the ties between Karabakh and the international community.
As for the position of Armenia concerning the independence of Kosovo, Sargsyan stated that "Armenia's possible recognition of Kosovo's independence will not strain the Armenian-Russian relations" but also noted that the "Kosovo recognition issue needs serious discussion ... Armenia has always been an adherent to the right of nations to self-determination and in this aspect we welcome Kosovo's independence."
Having been elected as a president for his first term in 2008 Sargsyan pledged to continue Armenia's policy towards Turkey, to normalize relations without any preconditions while continuing to strive for international recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Coming to power Sargsyan took specific steps towards the normalization of ties with Turkey, a policy termed as “football diplomacy". In 2008 Sargsyan took a historical initiative to invite Turkish President Abdullah Gül to Armenia to watch a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier match between Armenia and Turkey. Abdullah Gül attended the game in Armenia while Serzh Sargsyan made a reciprocal visit to Turkey to watch the second match.
On 10 October 2009 the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey signed protocols on establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries without any preconditions. The accord also presupposed the opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey which had been closed by Turkey in 1993. The protocols were signed in Geneva, Switzerland under the international mediation, chiefly that of the United States.
Sargsyan’s policy of rapprochement with Turkey received controversial reaction among the Armenian people. While one part was for the opening of the border and fostering trade with Turkey the other part was concerned that by this move Armenia would be forced to make concessions to Turkey in the most vital and strategic matters. Armenian influential opposition parties, most notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation were categorically against the signing of the protocols, given the recognition of the existing Turkish-Armenian border and the setting up of a joint commission of historians researching the Armenian Genocide, as envisioned by the protocols. They considered these steps as a sellout and staged mass protests against the signing of the protocols. The Armenian Diaspora was also largely opposed to this type of reconciliation with Turkey, arguing (despite Sargsyan's assurances to the contrary) that this would jeopardize the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide as well as the prospects of legitimate territorial claims of Armenians from Turkey.
The process of reconciliation however was suspended after a year, as the Turkish Parliament failed to ratify the protocols within the "reasonable time frame" as had been previously agreed by the sides. Contrary to the principle of "no preconditions" Turkey also continued to tie the reconciliation process with the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, expecting concessions on the Armenian side, which was unacceptable for the latter. Sargsyan explained the suspension of the reconciliation process by the Armenian side in the following way:
For a whole year, Turkey’s senior officials have not spared public statements in the language of preconditions. For a whole year, Turkey has done everything to protract time and fail the process... We consider unacceptable the pointless efforts of making the dialogue between Armenia and Turkey an end in itself; from this moment on, we consider the current phase of normalization exhausted."
President Sargsyan supported Armenia's efforts to ink an Association Agreement with the EU, which contains a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, for several years. Under his Presidency, the negotiations for the agreement were completed and Armenia was set to sign the agreement at an upcoming EU Summit. However, President Sargsyan made a drastic policy reversal when in September 2013, after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, he opted to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Even though such a reversal was made, President Sargsyan's administration has been determined to further EU inspired reforms in law and governance, and have stated a willingness to sign the political component of the Association Agreement with the European Union.
Major protests against Sargsyan's regime began in 2011, with the president's 2008 rival Levon Ter-Petrossian at their helm. In a concession to protesters, Sargsyan said on 20 April 2011 that the government would recommit to a thorough investigation of the post-election violence of three years prior.
In July 2016, Armenians protested in the capital Yerevan for the release of all political prisoners and the resignation of president Serzh Sargsyan and so to end his corruption according to the Armenian protesters. The national security service of Armenia called the takeover a "terrorist" attack, but a growing number of Armenian civilians disagreed with that assessment.
Serzh Sargsyan has thus far been conferred the following honors:
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